A federal appeals court has upheld a Virginia county’s prayer policy that discriminates against religious minorities.
On April 14, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that “Judeo-Christian” prayers before a Virginia county board of supervisors do not violate the First Amendment. The court cited a 1983 Supreme Court ruling upholding nonsectarian prayers before the Nebraska legislature.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia brought the case on behalf of Cynthia Simpson, a Chesterfield County resident who asked to be placed on the board’s list to give an invocation at its meetings.
When the board discovered that Simpson was a Wiccan, she was denied, because only invocations “consistent with the Judeo-Christian tradition” were welcome. Her Simpson v. Chesterfield County lawsuit argued that the board’s policy violated the separation of church and state.
“This is a terrible decision,” said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “It allows government officials to engage in rank discrimination against religious minorities that they don’t approve of.